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Court Finds 'Stolen Valor Act' That Prohibits Lying About Military Medals Violates Free Speech

Medals A federal judge in Denver ruled last week that the "Stolen Valor Act," which prohibits people from falsely claiming they have been awarded military decorations and medals, is "facially unconstitutional." U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn ruled on Friday of last week that the act violates free speech.

The act provides that:

Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration,or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The act particularly hates it when people falsely claim to have received a "distinguished-service cross ... a Navy cross ... an Air Force ... a silver star ... or a Purple Heart" medal, and provides for extra prison time in such cases.

The case decided by Judge Blackburn involved Rick Strandlof, who allegedly posed as Rick Duncan, "a wounded Marine captain who received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star." Prosecutors claim he used that persona to found the Colorado Veterans Alliance and solicit funds for the organization, the Denver Post reports. Strandlof wasn't charged with stealing money meant for the veterans group, however, and was only charged based on his "speech" alone.

Judge Blackburn rejected the argument that lying about having military medals dilutes their meaning and significance, stating that

This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is, frankly, shocking and, indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor. To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D., Colo., who introduced the legislation in 2005, said last week that "individuals who violate this law are those who knowingly portray themselves as pillars of the community for personal and monetary gain. The Stolen Valor Act has been upheld by other courts and I am confident this decision will be overturned on appeal."

Anther defender of the statute from a veterans' group said they will push for an appeal.

Posted by Bruce Carton on July 21, 2010 at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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